How Can I Waterproof Leather Work Boots?

Winter is eventually coming and with it wet and cold conditions that should precipitate you having to waterproof your leather work boots. Can it be done? Just how DOES one waterproof their boots?

At that, what do those waterproofing regimens mean for a pair of work boots?

Leather boots can be waterproofed. Perhaps not to the same degree as rubber boots but certainly well enough for any conditions imaginable from typical North American climate to use in sub-arctic environments.

What should you do to waterproof your leather work boots?

Start With Clean, Broken-In Leather Work Boots

The first step in waterproofing leather work boots is that they must be broken in. Boots that aren't broken in yet and aren't waterproofed must be prior to waterproofing and certainly before use in winter conditions. Should a seam open anywhere in the stitching, or even a little bit of room undetectable to the naked eye open up due to the material stretching with a break in, it won't matter what treatment has been applied?

Therefore, a new pair of boots has to be broken in before any treatment is applied.

Next, clean them. You need to make sure that any mud, dirt or other media is removed before the waterproofing process. Otherwise, you can wind up with dirt trapped in the leather, resulting in a permanently dirty pair of work boots, which isn't good for the boot.

That said, make sure they are dry before applying a waterproofing treatment. It isn't a bad idea to apply some mink oil or other leather conditioner and allowing it to dry before treating your boots too. Allow it to dry first, of course. This ensures your boot is in top condition before waterproofing is applied.

Waterproofing Treatment For Leather Boots

There are two varieties of waterproofing treatment for leather boots.

Wax sealing is the old-school method and has many advantages. It's a more holistic approach, as it's actually good for the whole boot except for new or newly resoled boots. In case either applies, use a different method such as a silicone spray, which we will cover shortly.

A wax waterproofing treatment is massaged into the leather, much like finishing a hardwood floor or waxing your car. The wax cures and the excess is buffed away. You can add a single coat, though several thin coats are recommended.

You'll likely have to repeat the treatment a time or two if your boots see heavy use. However, an appropriate wax will condition, nourish and protect the leather very well.

Silicone spray sealants are better for new boots and newly re-soled leather boots, as it doesn't get wax in the welting - a possibility with new boots as the seams will stretch a little during break-in. The leather may darken with use, however, so this is something to be aware of.

Silicone spray is the easiest way to waterproof boots, but it is also the least durable. Plan on frequent reapplication as the coating will degrade over a week or two if wearing daily...if not faster. You'll notice when it's worn off.

It's also a good idea to apply a seam sealer. This is a urethane sealant for footwear. You apply it by running a thin bead around the welt-seam. Doing so will ensure that no catastrophic damage occurs in the form of a rupture, but also ensures no water can enter the boot through the seam, which is actually the usual suspect when moisture enters the boot.

Waterproofing Leather Work Boots

Before you begin waterproofing your leather work boots, make sure your boots are clean, warm and dry. Remove your laces before applying the treatment, regardless of what kind you choose.

If you intend on applying a seam sealer, do so before applying a waterproofing treatment and allow it to cure fully.

A best practice is to do your waterproofing during sunny fall days, and let the sun warm and cure your boots.

Now, select your waterproofing material.

If you're using silicone spray, follow the instructions for application and apply an even coat on every surface of the boot. It's best to do so in a well-ventilated area as you don't want the fumes inside your home or office. After it's been applied, allow the boots to dry in a well-ventilated area as well, that's as free from moisture as possible and preferably warm. Preferably overnight.

Allow the spray to cure. If any has not been absorbed, wipe away the excess with a soft lint-free cloth.

If using wax, which again is far more durable and is good for boots that will see heavy use outdoors, warm the wax by placing it in a warm place for a while. The wax shouldn't be liquid but should shear (spread) with minimal effort.

Use fingers - wear gloves if at all possible - or a soft, clean, lint-free cloth to rub the wax into the boot. You want to apply a thick(ish) but even coat across the entire surface of the boot, from the welt to the top of the boot shaft. Make sure to get the tongue as well.

After you've applied a thorough coat, place your boots in a warm (but not hot) area for the wax to dry. After a few hours - or better yet, overnight - inspect them. You'll notice right away where there's excess wax. Buff away the excess. A second coat or even a third coat isn't a bad idea, either.

In either case, make sure that the waterproofing has fully cured and dried before getting into the field. If they feel tacky or sticky, that means the excess needs to be buffed away.

When Do I Repeat A Waterproofing Treatment For My Leather Work Boots?

You'll know when to repeat the waterproofing treatment for your leather work boots. It will be readily apparent that the layer of finish has broken down in either case. When you reapply the waterproofing, make sure your boots are clean, dry and preferably warm before doing so and allow it to fully cure.

For silicone sprays, you'll notice areas in the leather that have darkened and become moist. This is because the boots have lost their waterproofing and are beginning to absorb moisture again. Simply apply a new spray and allow to cure overnight.

For wax, you'll notice the top layer scuffs and the leather starts to look a little dry. That's a sign the top layer of wax is wearing away. In that instance, simply follow the same procedure and apply a new top layer of wax to the boot. Allow to cure and buff away the excess.

Silicone sprays should last a matter of days to a week or two, depending on the spray and use of the boots. Wax waterproofing treatment for leather work boots can potentially last a whole winter, also depending. The latter offers great protection but is also the least convenient.